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Phnom Penh Killing Fields

one last hurrah in asia...

This, my friends, will be my very last post from Asia (even though I'm not there anymore). That's right, I've moved on to Mexico. And with another continent comes another blog. Check it: http://awsnapmexico.travellerspoint.com Familiar, eh?

For my last trip, I decided to continue through Cambodia, past Siem Reap and onto Phnom Penh. It seemed appropriate; I generally enjoyed Cambodia and felt an excitement about it that I hadn't felt about a country in a long time. So we hopped on the bus where we were the only foreigners, and in about 5 hours made it to the capital. I had bought a plane ticket to Bangkok for $100 and was all set to go.

Phnom Penh is a hustling, bustling city, with motos honking and vendors haggling; there is no stopping to think, there is only living in the moment. I loved it; in some ways, it reminded me of HCMC, but since I hadn't been traveling for a month, I could appreciate it more. We of course went to a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet right on Lake Boeng Kak. The price was right, so we dropped our bags and went to sit on the beautiful lake and watch the sunset with a couple of BeerLaos.

The second day we got right into the profound sadness that still surrounds much of Cambodia: we went to the Killing Fields outside of the city, at Choeung Ek. During the late 70's, the Khmer Rouge Communist regime, led by the dictator Pol Pot, killed some 200,000 Khmer people (some estimates put the toll up to the millions) for suspected connections with former governments, or any foreign person in any regard. They were taken to death camps such as these and tortured and eventually executed.

Choeung Ek is surprisingly a peaceful place today. Most of the old buildings have been torn down, with only signs written in Khmer and English to remind visitors. There is a commemorative stupa that holds the bones, skulls and clothes of the people who were killed there. The mass graves are now empty of course, having been disinterred over the years since the Khmer Rouge fell. The site was once an orchard and has regained some of that serenity. There is a school close by and you can hear the children playing during recess.

The commemorative stupa, where a sign asks visitors to take a moment a silence for the men, women, and children who were killed there.

The now-empty mass graves.

One of the signs in Khmer, marking a spot where a building once stood.

One of the trees around the grounds.

Around the grounds, agriculture goes on.

When we left the Killing Fields, we thought it only proper to visit Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, a former high school that was used as a prison camp by the Khmer Rouge. Here, the "dissidents" (from other countries as well) were photographed and forced to write their life stories. They were imprisoned for potentially planning a coup against Pol Pot, or for merely being friends or family of these "dissidents." Forbidden to talk, they were held in individual cells as well as mass cells, shackled to the floor and not allowed to move. There were very strict rules and at the slightest hint of disobedience, prisoners were beaten. It is estimated that 17,000 prisoners were held there and out of those, only 12 survived.

Today, it is preserved almost exactly as it was found and is the "Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum."

It was extremely overwhelming to first go to Choeung Ek and then Tuol Sleng.

The first thing you see when walking around is these tombs.

One of the individual holding cells.

The gallows, where prisoners were held upside down to torture information out of them.

There are several rooms with boards full of pictures of the victims. The most heartbreaking were the ones who smiled for their pictures.

These are busts of Pol Pot, preserved next to shackles.

Visitors are encouraged to maintain the proper respect by not laughing or smiling.

Many of the big rooms (once classrooms) were crudely sectioned off into individual cells, using wood or concrete as walls.

Hastily-made corridors between rooms.

There was barbed wire everywhere.

It's impossible to walk these hallways and not feel the overwhelming sense of injustice and sorrow that Cambodians still carry with them today. It is important, however, to remember what happened (just as with any great tragedy of mankind) and to help the people mourn their loss.

Cambodia is a beautiful country and it's important to always keep in mind what the people have gone through in the past 30 years. To be understanding, empathetic, and always considerate is important while traveling through any country; I believe it is especially appreciated by a country that has suffered so much and yet goes on.

And on that note, I conclude my Asia blog...

Posted by lrbergen 23:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Ta Prohm

nature taking over!

One of the temples of Angkor Wat that I knew I HAD to experience was Ta Prohm. Famous for its infestation (a WONDERFUL infestation) of trees, Ta Prohm seems to be the temple that time forgot. Stones that used to be walls litter the ground in massive, dangerous piles. Trees seem to grow out of the walls. Ta Prohm's mystery was featured in the movie Tomb Raider and one can't help but feel a sense of eeriness while walking through the almost-always silent temple. Even after the exhausting visit to Angkor Wat, Kathryn and I KNEW that Ta Prohm was a must.

We were not disappointed.

On our way there, our tuk-tuk driver had to dodge several cows.

We passed some happy children. That's the thing about Cambodia: the classic Thai smile extends to the Cambodian people as well.

This kid was having a good time.


This cow was wandering through the market. No one seemed to care.

The stones seem to be barely hanging on.

Detail...some of this stuff was pretty well-preserved.

Side shot of a tree reclaiming its place.



The tree follows the path of the building.

One of the walls' color after some time.

A long shot of some ruins.

These trees were really amazing.

Really...you wouldn't want to climb through the rubble anyway.


Fallen arches...a different kind.



Impressive, eh?

Posted by lrbergen 18:16 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Angkor Wat!

the pinnacle of khmer culture

(This post is half old / half new...I started it in April...it is now mid-May. Forgive me, reader!)

As I might have mentioned before, being situated in Korea, one is positioned to see many other beautiful countries and sights. Some of these seem to be tourist traps (and I'm not naming any names), but some are so spectacular that they must be visited and never forgotten. Out of the things I've seen, this list includes the Great Wall in Beijing, the Golden Temple in Kyoto, the Alhambra in Granada, any Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, Halong Bay in Vietnam, and Hoi An (also in Vietnam).

And, as with any of these, I highly HIGHLY recommend going to see Angkor Wat of Siem Reap, Cambodia. With each of these sights or places, I have always felt a sense of awe. Angkor Wat was no different. And as with these other magnificent structures, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.


The road to Siem Reap was long, bumpy, and dusty. This is what it looked like about everywhere...

Some locals waiting around.

Women sellers with their wares.

The road to Angkor Wat.
This was either a wedding party or a television show shoot. It was hard to tell.


People lunching, horse tied up.

Dust that plagues Siem Reap.


Lots of balusters (columns) and bas-reliefs (stone wall etchings).


In addition to the tourists, there were lots of Cambodian people.



Before the Khmer Rouge took over, much of Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples were disassembled by foreign architects in order to preserve the structures and make them stronger. They were driven out of the country before they could finish. They had kept records of the location of each individual stone; these records were also destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. This is how many of the temples look...there are ruins all over the grounds.


Some fellow tourists take a rest in the heat.

Holy crap. Seriously? Ajummas? In Angkor Wat?! I could spot them a mile away.
I haven't seen as many signs in Korean outside of Korea as I did in Siem Reap. They were everywhere...I felt like I was in some sort of Twilight Zone...

It was impossible to capture just how steep these steps were. Impossible!

Some of the statues were amazingly well-preserved.




These deities are still actively worshiped. In fact, Angkor Wat is still an active temple. Most of the deities are headless; during the Khmer Rouge period, thieves plundered the temples and removed the heads to sell them to foreign art collectors. Most of them have never been returned.

All the good stuff all together.

Groundskeepers taking a nap at the hottest part of the day. It was ridiculously hot...all of us stupid tourists were walking around in the sun. These guys were smart.

A man leading his horse...but not to drink.


After this, my travel companion and I went to have lunch and a hot-air balloon ride.
A chick welcomes us.

Some of the flowering trees.

With the visit to this temple, I saw a lifelong (well...not really lifelong...more like since-I'd-been-in-Korea-long) desire fulfilled. It was totally worth the $20.
Then we went to see Ta Prohm...coming up!

Posted by lrbergen 03:34 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

A Beginner's Guide to Getting Scammed


There are all kinds of scams when you're traveling.

You get hassled to come look at your tuk-tuk driver's friend's tailor shop.
You spend all day on a trip that is made as uncomfortable as possible to ensure that you will stay at the "right" hotel.
And if you're naive, and you don't watch it, you will be overcharged like crazy.

That being said, I have never fallen prey to any MAJOR scamming. I'm almost positive that I've paid a bit too much for a bag, or a book, or even a bottle of water. A few cents here and there is no problem...traveling in Southeast Asia, I know that these people need the money more than I do.

To an extent.

Crossing the Thai border into Cambodia at PoiPet (from the Eastern island Koh Chang), we were overcharged for our bus (my companion paid 600Baht, I paid 700, and everyone coming from Bangkok, much farther away, was charged 400). When we reached Poi Pet, we were taken to a "travel agency" that was going to help us with our Cambodian visas. In every guidebook, from every traveler, we knew that the visa would cost $20USD. That's 600 Thai Baht. We started filling out the form and a woman told us that it would cost 2400 Baht each.

That's right...they wanted to charge us not double, not triple, but FOUR TIMES what it actually cost.

When we started questioning them, they made it very obvious that this was a scam and that the jig was up. The woman became very rude and muttered that we should have started the visa process 3 days ago in Bangkok...because without their help, that's how long it would take. "1...or...2...or 3 days." Another man actually raised his voice and started shouting. We continued to refuse to pay the inflated prices, and they continued to be nasty.

Eventually we made it to the "courtyard of shame," where there about 10 other people who were willing to take their chances at the border. We were branded with yellow stickers, while the "suckers", as I like to call them, were given pieces of red tape.

It all worked out in the end...we ended up paying 1000 Baht for the visas, but at least we were extorted by the Cambodian government who did it with a smile.
- AND we were on the same bus going over the same endless bumps and covered by the same dust from the road as the red-sticker suckers. We all spent the same 4 hours at the Thailand-Cambodia border. The road was terrible, but we made it Siem Reap...a little wiser, a little dirtier...but with 1400 extra Baht in our pockets toward the high Angkor Wat fee.

Which is totally worth it.

Posted by lrbergen 23:54 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)

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